Education or Indoctrination?

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

What’s the difference between education and indoctrination? Many educators today refuse to openly discuss their personal worldview with their students, claiming that they would not want to unduly influence them. However, the teacher’s worldview is still very much undergirding their teaching, whether or not they acknowledge it. Students’ thinking will be shaped in some way by their teacher’s worldview; the question is, will it be done out in the open, with students being given the freedom to challenge it?

All education is normative. The difference for the classical educator is that he makes known the norms that guide him… students cannot discover their own norms in isolation, as evidenced by the acknowledged need for coaches, mentors, and music teachers, not to mention parents…  Education has become increasingly ideological, holding to unacknowledged dogma and thereby removing its own dogma from the challenges of dialectical engagement.”*

An educator’s worldview may be shaped by their upbringing, their education, and their culture. Sometimes it may even be shaped by the government.

The other night we watched “Under the Sun”, a documentary about life in North Korea. Actual footage was smuggled out of the country, past North Korean officials who did not approve the version we watched.

The film features scenes from the North Korean educational system. At the beginning of the school day, we see a line of students and teachers file quietly past a huge mural of the North Korean leaders, pausing briefly to pay homage to the images. Line ups are eerily quiet, with no one showing any signs of even the slightest rebellion against authority.

Little girls gather in their classroom near a radiator that does not seem to be working, their breath visible in the frigid air. They begin their highly controlled and rigid lesson with their teacher, who leads them to an appreciation of their country’s leader that mimics and essentially mocks worship.

The teacher uses a question and response technique that drills into the girls’ minds exactly what the government would have them believe about their world, and their country in relation to it. She is the passionate incarnation of the pride and hatred toward the western world, spouted by the communist regime. I wonder, is she merely playacting for the camera? Or does she really believe it?

It seems that in North Korea, the children are forced to honor their political leaders above their own parents. The manufactured holiday, “The Day of the Shining Star”, is the country’s celebration of the birthday of the departed leader Kim Jong-il. This is the day they choose to induct children into the “Korean Children’s Union” where in the names of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un, the inductees swear in accordance with the spirit of the “Great Generalissimos” to be reliable reservists in the building up of communism.

The substitution of this unholy trinity for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an obvious attempt to obliterate God from the consciousness of children and replace Him with the false gods of the North Korean leadership. Kim Jong-il is described in their induction as being “always with us” and having “sacrificed everything so that students will be happy and have a bright future.” He is called a “loving father” and it is asserted by the master of ceremonies that “the world has no other loving father” like him, who “sacrificed his entire life for the happiness of children!” After their swearing in, military veterans tie red kerchiefs around the necks of children: the noose of communism.

The danger in our own country of children being indoctrinated with propaganda is also real. I recall an incident where all the students in a school were given pink t-shirts to wear, with this slogan emblazoned across the front: “Respect the right to be different.” The irony of everyone in the school wearing that same t-shirt seemed to be lost on the organizers. What does this doublethink do to a child’s mind?

In a Christian school, the danger of indoctrination is no less of a threat. As Christian educators, we must train our students to demand convincing evidence before they accept statements, including ours, as truth. However, this does not mean that we neglect to teach our students that there is such a thing as truth.

We ought to teach our students to subject any worldviews they encounter to vigorous tests for truth. As the apologist Ravi Zacharias states, “The three tests for truth must be applied to any worldview: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message is utterly unique and meets the demand for truth.”

We teachers ought to be up front with our own ideological standpoint, while at the same time encouraging our students to challenge it through thorough examination and dialogue. Since we know that Christianity is a worldview that can withstand any testing, we can have every confidence in allowing it to be freely and rigorously tested and evaluated.


*quote from Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, Veith and Kern, 2015, pages 49-50.